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An important story well told, featuring the drama and characters needed to make this a candidate for film adaptation.

A dramatic medical history that reveals the progress and the stumbles, the personalities and the rivalries, in the race to find a vaccine for rubella, or German measles.

Science magazine writer Wadman, who has a medical degree from Oxford and a journalism degree from Columbia, has long covered the politics of biomedical research. As she makes immediately clear, rubella, like Zika, inflicts terrible damage on babies whose mothers are infected during their pregnancies. In the 1960s, the search for a safe and effective vaccine was just beginning. Wadman focuses on Leonard Hayflick and Stanley Plotkin, scientists at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, and cell line WI-38, derived from the lungs of a fetus legally aborted in Sweden (and used without the mother’s consent), which subsequently became key to developing a vaccine that has been given to hundreds of millions of people. Besides informing readers of the role of fetal tissue in biomedical research, the author reveals the shocking methods used by researchers to test vaccines: prior to today’s stringent laws about informed consent, the test subjects were often institutionalized mentally disabled children. Rivalries and shenanigans abound in Wadman’s complex story. One night, Hayflick removed ampules of the cell line from the lab at Wistar, packed them up in his car, and carried them to his new job at Stanford University. Accusations and lawsuits ensued, as well as struggles for funding, and pharmaceutical companies and government agencies eventually became major players. Wadman’s story is much more than just the rubella story, however, for it doesn’t end with that vaccine. Strains derived from WI-38 are used today in the manufacture of most human virus vaccines, including those for polio, shingles, mumps, rabies, and hepatitis, and Hayflick’s work with cell biology has led to discoveries that have significant implications for theories of human aging.

An important story well told, featuring the drama and characters needed to make this a candidate for film adaptation.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-525-42753-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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